Capitals

Kenjon Barner rushes into Heisman consideration

201211032203794148951-p2.jpeg

Kenjon Barner rushes into Heisman consideration

Kenjon Barner modestly said No. 2 Oregon did ``pretty well'' in its big win over USC. As for his own record-setting effort, the ever-humble running back credited his teammates.

So it fell to former Ducks running back and good friend LaMichael James to come right out and say it: Barner has proven he's one of the best running backs in the country and deserves late consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

Barner rushed for a school-record 321 yards and scored five touchdowns in the 62-51 victory over the then-No. 18 Trojans on Saturday, a game many saw as a preview to the Pac-12 championship. No one had ever run for as many yards against Southern California before, and the five rushing TDs tied the Pac-12 record.

``Kenjon is a phenomenal player. I think he just proved that to everybody, that he's one of the best players in the country,'' James said. ``I think he's the best player, that's not plural, that's singular. And I think he deserves the Heisman. He should be right up there with everybody else.''

James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, was in Los Angeles for last weekend's game and spoke to reporters afterward. He held the previous rushing record for the Ducks, running for 288 yards on 23 carries last season at Arizona.

``I'm happy that he broke that record. Anytime your best friend can break your record, it means more,'' James said. ``It's like, `Man, my record got broken.' But Kenjon broke it, so it's OK.'''

Barner is atop the Pac-12 with an average of 143.89 yards a game, which ranks second in the nation only to Nevada's Stephon Jefferson with an average of 149. Barner is averaging 13.33 points, tied for the national lead.

So far this season, Barner has run for 1,295 yards, ranking him sixth on the Ducks' single-season list.

The explosion against USC is getting the senior increasing national respect. The 5-foot-11 senior back earned Walter Camp Football Foundation national player of the week honors following the USC victory, as well as the Pac-12's weekly honor.

Suddenly, his name is being mentioned more frequently by Heisman pundits, joining the likes of quarterbacks Collin Klein of Kansas State, A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Braxton Miller of Ohio State, as well as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

``It's a blessing, it's an honor,'' Barner said. ``But I don't really worry about it. I can't worry about that, I can't focus on that right now because there's still a lot of football left and anything can happen.''

The victory pushed Oregon's record to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-12. The Ducks' march to a bid for their second appearance in the national championship game in three seasons continues Saturday when they visit California (3-7, 2-5)

Barner was the Ducks' second-leading rusher behind James for the past two seasons. While James was clearly the star, coach Chip Kelly would often say that the two were so evenly matched that Barner was option ``1A'' for Oregon.

Last season Barner ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns, and caught 17 passes for 184 yards and three scores.

James, a Heisman trophy finalist as a sophomore, announced in early January that he was going to skip his senior year to enter the NFL draft. He finished his career as Oregon's career leader with 5,082 rushing yards. He is the first Pac-12 player to have three straight 1,500-yard seasons.

Many thought that Barner might follow his pal, but he decided to stay at Oregon and earn his degree in criminology. He graduated this spring.

During the game against USC, Barner surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time at Oregon. But in typical restrained style, he certainly wasn't taking the credit.

``Once we started to get things going and making runs, I was able to get into a comfort zone,'' Barner said. ``The offensive line made blocks, the receivers made blocks. We were just clicking and able to get things going.''

James suggested Barner would have many plenty more yards if Oregon hadn't sat him early in most of the games this season. In the Ducks' previous eight games, he'd seen fourth-quarter playing time only twice.

``If they weren't beating teams so bad, I don't know what would happen,'' James said. ``He'd probably have 2,000 yards right now.''

Quick Links

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

capture_vegas.png
USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

Quick Links

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS: